It was 1:30 Monday morning, not long after the stragglers had left Fenway Park, most of them sure it was for the last time this season. In a folding chair near one of the stadium exits sat a dummy in an Oakland Athletics uniform, wearing Rickey Henderson's number 24. Ushers and a few other Boston Red Sox employees were taking out their frustrations on the doll by hurling objects at it and whacking it with a broomstick. They at least had found one way to beat the A's.
The only way to beat them may be in effigy. In person, and in Boston, the Athletics knocked the stuffing out of the Red Sox and their fans, 9-1 last Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday, to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. Oakland appeared headed toward its third straight World Series, while Boston appeared headed toward its usual fate.
What made the victories so impressive was that the A's won with none of their bash and just a touch of their dash. This was more like lash (Oakland had 26 hits, just three of which went for extra bases) and squash (starters Dave Stewart and Bob Welch held Boston to only 10 hits in 15‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® combined innings). Said Oakland relief ace Dennis Eckersley, who closed out both games, "We've got one helluva baseball team, don't you think?"
Actually, most people thought that long before the ALCS started. But hope persists even in Boston, which hasn't had a world champion since 1918. (A banner in the stands on Saturday read EVERY 72 YEARS, JUST LIKE CLOCKWORK.) Even though the Red Sox had won 15 fewer games than the A's, they seemed to have destiny on their side this time. On Wednesday night of last week, rightfielder Tom Brunansky had made a miraculous catch with two outs in the ninth inning of the last regular-season game to seal a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox and the American League East title.
On the other hand, there were the ghosts (and goats) of Red Sox past. In fact, wandering around the field before Game 1 were two of them: fungo hitter Johnny Pesky, who held the ball in '46, and Channel 7 sports reporter Bill Buckner, who missed the ball in '86. Jim Burton ('75) and Mike Torrez ('78) would have made it a complete set. Boston manager Joe Morgan—who is Walpole, Mass., through and through—professes not to pay attention to such history. Before the game, he was as relaxed as could be, talking about the peppers in his garden and the fall foliage and the Walpole High football team. In the meantime, the spiritual leader of his baseball team, catcher Tony Pena, was telling a reporter, "When human beings play human beings, anything can happen."
The opener pitted two seeming superhumans against one another: Stewart, coming off his fourth straight year of 20 or more victories (22-11 in '90), versus Roger Clemens, 21-6 this year with a 1.93 ERA. Since Stewart joined the A's in 1986, the two have faced each other six times, with Stewart winning all six and Clemens losing all six. In their last confrontation, on Sept. 4, Clemens hurt his shoulder so badly that he didn't pitch for another 24 days. Beating Stewart has become an obsession for Clemens, so much so that Boston pitching coach Bill Fischer was worried his ace would try to overdo it on Saturday. "Maybe I should put blinders on him," Fischer said.
For six innings, the duel was exactly as advertised. Neither team had a hit in the first three innings. The mitts of catchers Pena and Terry Steinbach were popping. The glares of Clemens and Stewart were burning holes in the backstops. Stewart blinked first, allowing Wade Boggs a wind-aided solo homer into the net above the Green Monster in the fourth inning. A lesser man might have been upset with himself, but Stewart said, "I just stared at the wall for a moment and thought, That would not have been a home run anywhere else. So I chose to disregard it."
Clemens, who retired the first 11 men he faced, began to tire after working out of jams in the fourth and fifth. In the sixth, he walked the first two men he faced, but was saved when Harold Baines lined into a double play. After the inning, Morgan told Clemens he was through for the evening. "He was dead," said Morgan later. "He wouldn't have gotten through the seventh."
The Red Sox had a 1-0 lead after six, but unfortunately for Boston, the lead was entrusted to a weary bullpen with the highest ERA in the league. As Larry Andersen toed the slab in the seventh, the fans became quiet and dread hung in the air like the neon CITGO sign in left. Oakland pitcher Mike Moore later said, "It was like church, and all you could hear was the organ music."
Andersen immediately walked Mark McGwire, and one out later Jamie Quirk was sent to the plate as a pinch hitter. Henderson, standing in the on-deck circle, turned to some of his hecklers and said, "It's only a matter of time." In a matter of moments, Quirk lined a single over the middle, and Henderson tied the score with a sacrifice fly to center.
The Athletics can boast of great power and speed and pitching, but they and their manager, Tony La Russa, are actually proudest of their ability to do the little things in baseball, and they did them in the eighth. Jose Canseco singled up the middle to lead off the inning and chase Andersen. Enter reliever Tom Bolton to face Baines, the cleanup hitter, who laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt—his first in six years. Enter Jeff Gray. Canseco immediately stole third, and then Carney Lansford singled to right to put Oakland ahead. Two batters later, with the bases loaded for Willie Randolph, Henderson stood again in the on-deck circle and told the Red Sox fans, "It's time." By then, they didn't need to be told. They got a reprieve when Jody Reed made a nice play on a hard ground ball to second by Randolph to end the inning, but it was only temporary.
The ninth inning was a horror story worthy of Stephen King, who happened to be at Fenway that night to root the Red Sox on. (The ultimate scenario, King says, would be "one out away from winning for the first time since 1918, and nuclear war is declared.") Henderson singled and then Gray botched Willie McGee's sacrifice bunt. Enter Dennis Lamp. Five batters, two stolen bases, two hits, one passed ball and two walks later, the score was 6-1 and Fenway was funereal. Enter Rob Murphy (0-6, 6.32 ERA). Walk, single, single. By the time the inning was over, the A's had scored seven runs and increased their lead to 9-1. The CITGO sign seemed to be telling the Fenway faithful, C IT GO.
As if the top of the ninth weren't enough to demoralize Boston, Eckersley, who needed the work, pitched the bottom of the ninth. A former Red Sox hurler, Eckersley had 48 saves, an 0.61 ERA, 73 strikeouts and four walks in 73‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings this year, and he had retired all 10 Red Sox he faced in '90. He actually revealed his mortality by giving up a two-out double to Ellis Burks, but Mike Greenwell grounded out, and the game was over at last. The time of the torture: three hours, 26 minutes.
"A beautiful game turned into a horrible evening, didn't it?" said Morgan afterward to gathered reporters. "You all must be half asleep. What is it, 3:30 in the morning?"
Indeed, the original duel between Stewart and Clemens seemed a nearly forgotten dream. In Boston, the matchup had been compared to Bill Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain, like Clemens, got the individual awards. Russell, like Stewart, got the championship trophies. When asked about the comparison, Stewart said, "That was a little before my time. But yes, Roger gets the publicity. My team gets the titles. Anytime I pitch, they know they're going to win."
The outlook wasn't brilliant for Boston in Game 2, not with 27-game winner and probable Cy Young Award recipient Bob Welch going against eight-game winner and United Parcel Service driver Dana Kiecker. But wait. Morgan revealed before Sunday's game that he was going with a new lucky chestnut in his back pocket. "This one is six and three," he said. Earlier this season, Morgan had picked up a chestnut on the White House lawn, but he released it with a record of 0-2.
Welch versus Kiecker didn't have the hype of Stewart versus Clemens, but it turned out to be every bit as good a matchup. Sadly for the Red Sox, the game turned out to be eerily similar to the first. Again Boston took an early 1-0 lead—this time on Carlos Quintana's sacrifice fly in the third—and Oakland came back to tie the score in the top of the fourth as McGee doubled and his fellow late-season acquisition Baines singled.
The Red Sox kept stepping out of the batter's box on the fast-working Welch, sometimes in the middle of his windup, to disrupt his rhythm, but all they were really doing was prolonging the game and galvanizing the A's. "I understand why they were doing it," said Lansford, a former Red Sox third baseman who had six hits in the two games. "But if anything, it just made us dig in a little more."
Welch didn't seem bothered in the least. Even after the game, feigning naivetè, he said, "Oh, did the Red Sox step out on me? I didn't notice."
Kiecker, who did drive a UPS truck last winter, delivered the goods with 5⅖ innings of solid work. He left to a standing ovation, and the first teammate to greet him in the dugout was Clemens. Said Kiecker later, "I was upset I didn't get out of the inning. I was looking to go seven or eight. I was surprised he [Morgan] took me out."
A 29-year-old rookie, born in Sleepy Eye, Minn., Kiecker would have made a nice story had Boston won. He might have even joined Michael Jordan and Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled in the pantheon of athletes who stick their tongues out while they work. But his future fame, and any chance the Red Sox had of making this a series, rested on the tired shoulders of the bullpen. The CITGO sign was blinking.
Mike Gallego and Henderson both singled to lead off the seventh, and Andersen came on to relieve Greg Harris, who had relieved Kiecker. Two batters later, Baines ripped a shot down the first base line. Quintana made a diving stop of the ground ball and threw to first for the force, but the lead run had scored. It was 2-1 and, just as the night before, it seemed a heavily lopsided 2-1.
Boston blew golden opportunities in the sixth and eighth. Brunansky, the hero of the previous two weeks, grounded out with the bases loaded in the sixth. With one out in the eighth, Boggs and Burks chased Welch off with singles. Greenwell grounded back to reliever Rick Honeycutt, who turned to throw to second for a possible double play. The throw was low, however; shortstop Walt Weiss was upended by the sliding Burks and had to leave the game with a sprained knee.
Runners at first and third. Was there hope? No, there was Eckersley. The Eck was summoned to face Dwight Evans, and he struck him out on three fastballs. "Up, up and up," Eckersley described them. "He hit a grandslammer off me last year, so I guess we're even."
Completing the sense of dèjà vu, the A's scored in the top of the ninth to seal things, this time with two runs off the Red Sox closer, Jeff Reardon. Boston then went down 1-2-3, as Eckersley mercifully cut the playing time to a mere three hours and 42 minutes—surely some kind of a record for a 4-1 game. The fans went home resigned to the fact that they wouldn't be back. Said Eckersley, "The Red Sox have given Boston a lot of excitement this summer. But we really didn't want to be a part of any of that."
Said Morgan, "You look back and ask, 'How did the Dodgers beat those guys?' It can be done." It was not impossible, of course, but the Red Sox headed to Oakland down two games to none, and only two teams in the history of postseason play have won a best-of-seven series after losing the first two at home. Worse yet, Morgan's best chestnut was now only 6-4.
Actually, the most frightening aspect of the Boston Massacre was the low visibility of the Hendersons, Dave and Rickey. Dave, who has seven homers and 19 RBIs in 30 postseason games but is not fully recovered from a knee injury, didn't even play last weekend. Rickey, who nearly singlehandedly destroyed the Toronto Blue Jays in last year's ALCS, was held to three singles and one stolen base. He did hit two long fly balls to straightaway center in Game 2, and after the game he said, "I guess I'm just gonna have to lift some more weights." As if that pronouncement weren't ominous enough, Rickey was wearing a T-shirt that read: OAKLAND, CALIF. CRIME SCENE. DO NOT ENTER.